Jul 15, 2011

New York New York: Out of the Cliché

Let's do something more in-depth for the weekend before I head to Boston. I haven't found a suitable adjective for New York yet, and so much for its cultural diversity and mixed bag of everything, this post would be a little of everything too.

To start, St. Paul's Chapel is Manhattan's oldest chapel to date. Most remembered for being the humble structure that stood steadily beside the World Trade Centers when they crumbled on Sept. 11, 2001. It became an impromptu shelter for firefighters, policemen and volunteers following immediate rescue and months of cleaning up. The chapel that serves also as an exhibition hall displays heart-wrenching memorabilia following the attacks.

The grills surrounding the collapsed WTC became an instant message wall. At first anxious families posted photos of the missing. Then as hope diminishes, visitors from around the world added their own something just to remind America and the world that they care. Hats, teddy bears, flags, message cards, name tags...Until there was no more space to add they have to replace the grills.

The pews, heavily scratched by firefighters' boots when they took a nap with boots on (they get called back to scene very frequently), were preserved. Inside and out, supporters filled the pews with words of encouragement. Masseurs provided free massage services, the church provided spiritual and moral support, and millions of New Yorkers first took part in volunteering on that very day.

The Bell of Hope was a gift from city of London after the attacks. It symbolizes hope after terror and that good will always prevail. Since its cast, it has rung for similar victims of London, Madrid, Moscow, Mumbai, Virginia Tech, and all 9/11 anniversaries. "Cast in Adversity" it says, nay to terror and fear. 

So this year being the 10th anniversary of the attacks, New York is completely dressed up for the future. A new mass transit station, park, and memorial will replace the previous towers. "Tomorrow" is the theme here.

RIP to victims of the 9/11 attacks.

Winding further south will bring you to Ellis Island and Liberty Island. Lady Liberty stands on the latter, holding up a torch and a tabula ansata. She greets almost all immigrants from sea during the great influx period, a symbol of new life and endless possibilities. This is all too cliche. We'll do Ellis Island, where the immigrants, all excited and hoarse from shouting "America!" gets processed, interrogated, held up, inspected, and hopefully accepted into the land of the free.

Immigration museum on Ellis Island. This is built back when there was no visa system and passports were scroll-sized. You travel 14 days in a coffin-sized ship compartment across the Atlantic. Numb, cramped, tired, and seasick from your journey, your baggage gets tossed upon arrival into the lobby, you're told to leave them, get undressed, screened for trachoma, and asked a thousand questions.

The Hall of Registries, where doctors flip you upside down and interrogators asked about polygamy, communism, work, and relatives.

I see our park ranger bears some resemblance to the immigration officers back then.

And just an idea of how many immigrant arrivals in one year, NY processed 700,000+ in 1903 alone. That's almost 2,000 people per day, including Saturdays, Sundays, New Year and Christmas (I'm sorry I ruined the picture). San Francisco (where most Asians arrive), is pale in comparison.

Next stop: back to Manhattan, this Barnes & Noble and its 1881 Queen Anne-building is a charming bookstore at Union Square. That's where the purple NYU students hang out. It's both studious and fun inside - people reading, people sketching people reading, people having a drink looking at people sketching people reading...

So this is Union Square - chess, debates about Wikileaks, planned parenthood, salsa classes, and topless picnics all in one place.

Hell's Kitchen, according to my local guide, is the gayest area in town now. Replacing Chelsea as the rent goes up. The flea market is just in front, but this lady(?)'s shorts caught my attention.

After Hell's Kitchen we can head west to Hudson River Park for the gorgeous sunset

And to appreciate I.M. Pei's architectural works overlooking Chelsea Piers just before dusk

I'm running out of vocabulary and I can't tell you how bipolar I am while composing this one. I cried writing St. Paul's chapel, laughed myself silly at Union Square, and admire the 19th century adventure of immigration to a brave new world. This is New York, my friend. And I'm going to need my bipolar medications soon.